By Marcy Stamper
Concerns about erosion, the deposition of sediment in waterways that provide habitat for endangered fish, and the likelihood of inadvertently cutting down live trees have prompted an appeal of the state’s plans to log 1,285 acres in the lower Methow Valley that burned in the Carlton Complex Fire.
Kathleen (Maeyowa) Yockey, who owns property on Cow Creek, Conservation Northwest and the Kettle Range Conservation Group have appealed the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Carlton Fire Salvage FIT sale. The appeal was filed with the state’s Pollution Control Hearings Board on Friday (Feb. 13).
The appellants contend that DNR’s plans to log areas in the Texas Creek, Benson Creek, Chiliwist Creek and the Methow River watersheds pose a risk of severe erosion and could harm water quality and fish.
Areas near the proposed logging experienced major mudslides on two occasions in August after rainstorms, causing flash flooding in many of the local creeks. Slides caused by the storms damaged state highways in the area.
DNR managers are still reviewing the appeal and have made no decisions about whether it would affect the sale, said Loren Torgerson, DNR’s Northeast Region Manager.
The auction for the timber was held as planned on Jan. 27 and is still in the confirmation process, he said.
The proposed logging entails construction of an estimated 430 feet of road, along with rebuilding and maintenance of another 84,000 feet to allow heavy equipment to remove the trees. It would leave at least six standing trees per acre and burn any slash from the logging.
The appellants say an analysis performed by a multi-agency team after the fire predicts a dramatic increase in the potential for erosion, from 835 to 11,581 percent. In addition, some soils in the area were compromised by the extreme heat of the fire, making them resist penetration of water, they say.
Worries about erosion
Appellants contend erosion and landslides could deposit sediment in the Methow River, harming habitat for threatened and endangered salmon and bull trout.
The appellants claim that plans to complete the logging by July 31 mean that the work would be done during the most vulnerable time of year, when snowmelt and spring rains make the slopes even more prone to sliding.
“We were very definite about where we looked to salvage, based on environmental factors, and believe we have a solid sale there,” said Torgerson.
The appellants are also concerned that road construction and heavy machinery will further damage the soil and inhibit the natural growth of trees and other vegetation. DNR plans to reseed the access roads and logged areas.
The appellants also cite studies done after other wildfires that found that even trees that appeared dead showed regrowth in the first few years after a fire.
In an addendum issued after the comment period, DNR clarified some issues in the original environmental review but did not alter the plans for the sale, according to Torgerson.
The addendum acknowledged that some soils had been destabilized by the fire and that heavy rains had caused erosion and widened stream channels. It noted that most of the areas in the sale have a low to medium potential for erosion. No logging is planned on slopes steeper than 60 percent.
“The concern I have is this material will deteriorate pretty rapidly,” said Torgerson. “Obviously, we’d like to see this volume salvaged for the benefit to the [school] trust, for local jobs, and because of the potential forest-health issue, since these trees could become a vector for what we call bugs and crud.”
DNR set a minimum bid of $2.3 million for the timber, which is mostly ponderosa pine and Douglas fir.
The appellants are asking the hearings board to prevent the sale from proceeding. The board will conduct an administrative trial, which can take six to 12 months, according to attorney Peter Goldman of the Washington Forest Law Center, who is representing the appellants.
In a separate action, the state’s Forest Practices Board voted unanimously on Tuesday, Feb. 10, to approve a rule clarifying that DNR can require a geologic-hazard assessment when timber harvests are proposed near unstable slopes.
The new rule applies to designated land types, such as steep gorges with a history of deep-seated landslides, according to Bob Redling, communications manager for DNR.
DNR’s environmental review of the Carlton sale already applied the criteria of the new rule to identify any unstable slopes, said Torgerson.